And the eyes have it…

03 Jun,2022


By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh KapoorIn major research reports, amid all the crucial, perspective-changing insights, occasionally comes a finding that makes you chuckle at the silliness of it. This column is about one such finding.


In our recently-released report on the Indian OTT audience, there’s a section where we quantify the various reasons because of which medium and light AVOD streamers (i.e., those not watching content on any paid platform) do not spend more time watching online videos. This ranking effectively helps OTT platforms understand why Indian AVOD audience have not engaged with digital videos enough to make them consider paying for subscriptions.


Using qualitative research, we identified 11 reasons, and the report ranks them based a large sample quantitative study. The reason right at the top of the list is “can damage eyes”. A staggering 78% medium and light AVOD audience in India believe watching online videos (largely on their smartphones) damages their eyes, and hence, consumption time must be controlled. This reason is 18 percentage points higher in the list than all other reasons, including some compelling ones related to pricing of paid content, cost of mobile data, reservations about sexual and abusive content, etc.


If you have grown up in an average Indian household like me, I’m sure you have been fed this bogey at some point of time in your early years. “Can damage eyes” has been the go-to explanation for Indian parents, to dissuade their kids from watching more television in the 1990s and the 2000s, and then from using the smartphone excessively, for the last decade or so. “You will have to wear glasses all your life”, for example, is a common scary consequence mentioned.


As a heavy TV watcher, I had to hear this every other day, and it didn’t help that I already had glasses prescribed from a very early age to begin with. I believed in the reason for many years. Only in my 20s, I discovered that the consequence I was repeatedly reminded of was only a grand old myth.


A simple internet search on “Does watching TV damage your eyes” or “Does using smartphone damage your eyes” will give you some easy answers. Excessive usage of devices can cause eye strain, but it does not “damage” eyes, or any other part of our physiology, in any way. I’m not endorsing excessive device usage, as there are indirect health consequences that one needs to keep an eye on, pun intended. But the “can damage eyes” reason is simply untrue.


It’s fascinating, then, that such a myth is the top reason for a section of audience, leading to them controlling their consumption of digital video content. The belief that this is true is so deep-seated that you cannot say that parents lie to their kids when they use this argument. They actually believe in it!


As puerile as this finding is, it tells us a thing or two about the Indian audience. We may have progressed rapidly in the digital space, but there are some uniquely Indian challenges that the Indian market continues to pose. It seems this myth existed in the Western markets too for a while, but has become a marginal one over time. But in India, this is a consumption barrier that has direct business impact, on both unpaid (AVOD) and paid (SVOD) streaming businesses.


I almost wish one of the leading players did a tongue-in-cheek campaign to bust this myth. But busting myths created over decades is not easy.


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